Point Austin: We're All Flakes Here

It's not the sideshow candidates who should worry Texas voters

Point Austin
You know you have entered the twilight zone of Texas politics when Glenn Beck becomes the spokesman for rationality. That was the story last week when Beck interviewed upstart GOP gubernatorial candidate Debra Medina on his radio show, and in the midst of getting her bona fides on gun rights and property rights – "We don't own our property in Texas," declared the candidate portentously – Beck popped the now notorious question: "Do you believe the government was [in] any way involved with the bringing down of the World Trade Centers on 9/11?"

As political questions go, it was a softball; despite Beck's reflexive melodramatics, Medina initially rejected out-of-hand the notion that she is a "9/11 Truther." But asked to reiterate, Medina pulled a Palin. "I don't have all of the evidence there, Glenn," she answered. "I think some very good questions have been raised in that regard. There are some very good arguments, and I think the American people have not seen all of the evidence there."

You might expect that Beck, most of whose own feverish notions originate on the dark side of the moon, wouldn't have a problem with Medina's vague hesitations. But he made his headline bones by smearing environmentalist Van Jones, who years ago had signed a petition calling for an investigation of the official 9/11 story. So Beck couldn't swallow similar doubts coming from Medina, quickly dismissed her from the show, and started yearning manfully for Rick Perry. "Rick, I think you and I could French kiss right now."

If that's not an image sufficient to spoil your dinner, you're an old hand at Texas politics. In Texas primary season, no politician goes bust overestimating the credulity of Republican voters. The Perry campaign – nervous that Medina will collect sufficient votes to force a run-off – was quick to rebroadcast her statement, and Medina herself backpedaled furiously the next day, saying she has "never believed" the U.S. government was involved in the 9/11 attacks. A few days later, she plaintively told another audience, "I am not a flake." That's what a little respectability will do to you – you start abandoning your base.

It's been a hoot watching Perry outflanked from the right. He toys with secession, Medina counters with "interposition and nullification" – a states' rights scam that hasn't been trotted out since Ala­ba­ma wanted to block desegregation. (It's always amusing to hear "constitutionalists" ignore the supremacy clause.) Perry brags about cutting property taxes; Medina says she'll abolish them altogether. Aggie yell leader Perry thought he'd be swatting away tea-sip cheerleader Kay Bailey Hutchison like a vacationing D.C. carpetbagger; instead, he's fretting that the anti-tollsters and the tea partiers and the birthers and the truthers will form a new Know-Nothing coalition to worry him into the summer and make him tack to the right just when he needs to be leaning the other way. (Perry's new BFF Sarah Palin says similar things about 9/11, but she's a celebrity, so it's OK.)

He that sows the wind .... Couldn't happen to a nicer fellow.

At the Dem Salon

That's not to say the Democrats don't have their own flock of loons. Half a dozen of them, political hobbyists all, are officially in the Dem governor's primary, although they don't rate the headlines Medina's been getting – for the very good reason that not enough Democrats are sufficiently deluded to vote for them (see "Dems for Governor: Bill White, et al."). Even among that crowd, former Houston Mayor Bill White should win outright on March 2 – unless the most prominent pretender, Farouk Shami, manages to buy enough publicity to force a run-off.

Shami seems like a pleasant enough fellow, and I've met women who swear by his hair-care products, but there is only one reason he's being treated like a real candidate: He's enormously wealthy and willing to blow his money on a Texas-sized ego-gratification campaign. Since we have an increasingly cargo-cult culture, with everyone hoping for the big payoff, it only makes sense to have cargo-cult politics as well. Shami takes the notion literally: He promises 100,000 new jobs in Texas in two years or he'll "give" the state $10 million. That's hardly enough to pay even for Perry's mansion addition. But who can doubt the word of the man who brought the power of CHI – for you highbrow sciencey readers, that's "cationic hydration interlink" – to hair salons all over the world.

Oh, by the way, Shami's not too sure about 9/11 either, or even the Kennedy assassination; after they lose, maybe he and Medina can join forces with Alex Jones on insightful new investigations.

A Touch of Reason

Next to all this combined foolishness, Bill White has the increasingly engaging look of a sensible fellow caught in the headlights. He's been a successful businessman too, but his most important public service as mayor has been improving the quality of life for ordinary Houstonians, so much so that he was twice re-elected by legendary margins in that otherwise politically polarized city. His business credentials are as strong as his political ones, and his energy industry background enabled him to face down major Houston polluters in ways that hadn't been previously possible. (Governor White certainly won't be suing the Environmental Protection Agency for doing its job.)

It remains to be seen whether White's unspectacular pragmatism can cut through the polarized sensationalism that is now the ordinary atmosphere of our politics, in Texas as everywhere. He's not yet well known statewide, and in that limited way Shami's antics and money have been helpful; in the televised debates, White effectively reached past his opponent and outward to a new, wider audience. Of course, neither did he stick his foot in his mouth and therefore didn't generate many headlines. Perhaps once he wins the primary, he can challenge Perry to a hair-care speed race. Certainly the political cartoonists would welcome a new subject: White's bald dome and helicopter ears.

The rest of us would welcome some simple return of official sanity to state politics: a government based on reason and common problem-solving instead of rhetoric and polarized fear-mongering; a budget addressing real, broad community needs instead of dodging all responsibility in the name of evanescent tax cuts; and political campaigns based on appeals to the voters' best instincts instead of their worst.

Oh, wait, I must have dozed off for a moment.

God Bless Texas.

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

election, Glenn Beck, Debra Medina, Rick Perry, Sarah Palin, Kay Bailey Hutchison, Bill White

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